By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Day 2 in Dunedin was as much fun as Day 1! On Thursday, the big league club was in Fort Myers to play the Boston Red Sox so I spent my time mostly at the minor league camp again. That doesn't mean that the goings on were "minor," though!
I started at the big league facility. Most of the big boys were in camp and I watched their warm up that started at 9:15. Spotted were pitchers like John Axford, Seung-hwan Oh, Craig Breslow, Tyler Clippard, J.A. Happ and Ryan Tepera while some position players were around too. I saw Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk and others.
When the pitchers started to peel off for PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), I started my trip over to the minor league camp but not before learning that Marco Estrada was scheduled to start at the minor league complex. I wanted to see some batting practice and the youngsters were heading to Clearwater to play the Phillies while the higher level guys were staying around to host said Phillies.
First a word about organization. The Blue Jays (and other teams) basically have five working groups of minor league players. For simplicity's sake, they call them the "Buffalo," "New Hampshire," "Dunedin," "Lansing" and "Extended Spring Training" with the groups made up roughly of players who may or may not end up with that team when the season starts. I use very cautious language because it's not an exact science. For example, most of the players on "Buffalo" and "New Hampshire" who played today will likely be assigned to a team that is down one level from where they were playing today. The "big league" squad that went to Fort Myers to play Boston was full of guys who are projected to be in Buffalo and therefore, guys who I'd expect to play for New Hampshire, like Connor Panas (Toronto, Ont.), Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Gunnar Heidt, were all with the "Buffalo" squad. The same was true for the "New Hampshire" team (with a few exceptions).
After my check-in to the office to see who was going to be on the mound that afternoon, I watched some BP, focusing on the youngest group of players including Hagen Danner, Reilly Johnson, Jesus Severino, Samad Taylor and Jesus Navarro.
The Blue Jays also announced their latest round of cuts and a bunch of the pitchers who came over from big league camp recently, including Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.), Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.), Chris Rowley, Jose Fernandez, Justin Shafer and Thomas Pannone threw bullpen sessions. Also throwing was Nick Tepesch.
Because almost everyone was playing "up" a level today, the "Extended Spring Training" work group was actually the group of players who went over to Clearwater along with players who were mostly in the "Lansing" work group. That left the "Dunedin" and "New Hampshire" work groups to stay behind and take BP second. I spent most of my time watching the "Dunedin" work group that featured guys like Bradley Jones, Riley Adams and Vladimir Guerrero (Montreal, Que.) take their BP.
After BP wrapped up, it was lunch time, so I availed myself of the opportunity to have my lunch. While I didn't watch, Angel Perdomo threw a live BP session on the back field.
Game time was 1 p.m. and it was a great show to start off. I watched both Marco Estrada and the "double-A" game's starter throw in the bullpen to warm up. In fact, the pitcher in the double-A game arguably got more attention. It was Nate Pearson, the giant, fireballing righty who was bringing some serious head even in the warmups. There were a few of the beat writers there to take it in and they were all shaking their head just watching him warm up.
Once the games started it was off to the races. The crowds gathered to watch Pearson in particular and I'm sure you'll be able to read what the beat writers wrote about his performance by now.
After Estrada came off the diamond, he held court with the media, talking about refining his cutter, looking for the right grip and right feel for the pitch. He struck out nine in five innings of work, needing just 63 pitches.
I also talked to Gil Kim again, finding out some bad news that there are a few pitchers in minor league camp who won't be ready for the start of season. These pitchers include Justin Maese who missed time with shoulder issues last year, while 2017 draftees Matt Shannon and Colton Laws will also miss time. We also talked about the three minor leaguers whom the Blue Jays selected in the Rule 5 draft: Drew Muren, Ivan Castillo and Alberto Mineo. I've seen some of Mineo's batting practice and he's a guy I'm very interested in watching this year.
I also talked to Ken Huckaby and asked him about some of the Jays' young catchers. He praised Riley Adams while also telling me that high-school second-round draftee Hagen Danner has come a long way behind the plate.
One roster note to let you know of. Catcher Alex Monsalve is in camp. Monsalve was with the Fisher Cats and Bisons last year as a backup and the likelihood is high that he's been brought back for the same role for this year.
I finished up the day with an interview of reliever Jackson McClelland. Tomorrow it's back at it and I'll see the Atlanta Braves minor leaguers facing the class-A Blue Jays and follow it up with a couple more interviews.
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